Here is the question of the day: Is Morgan’s ‘gripe site’ on Lennar protected free speech?

STUART — A consumer watchdog group founded by Ralph Nader has come to the defense of a Stuart real estate broker who is being sued by Lennar Corp.

The suit stems from the use of the home builder’s name in a Web site that criticizes the quality of several of Lennar’s houses.

Public Citizen, based in Washington, is filing a friend of the court brief asking Judge Larry Shack to throw out Lennar’s trademark infringement claims against Mike Morgan because his “gripe site” is protected by the Constitutional right to free speech.

“The notion that you can’t identify the subject of your criticism by using the name of the company you’re criticizing is absurd,” said Paul Levy, a lawyer with Public Citizen. “We think it’s a matter of simple free speech.”

The brief was sent overnight Tuesday for delivery to the Circuit Court on Wednesday, Levy said. A hearing on a request to dismiss Lennar’s suit against Morgan is set for March 21.

Mark Sustana, the general counsel of Miami-based Lennar, declined to comment on Public Citizen’s brief or the company’s suit against Morgan.

Lennar filed suit against Morgan in June 2006 charging his Web sites Defective Homes and Lennar Homes Info violated the company’s trademark and defamed Lennar with false claims that several homes built by the company were defective.

Morgan has alleged Lennar built several defective homes in the Martin’s Crossings subdivision in Stuart, the Newport Isles subdivision in Port St. Lucie and the Diamond Lake subdivision in Vero Beach. Morgan also is suing Lennar for sales commissions he believes he is owed.

While Public Citizen took no position on the defamation claim against Morgan, Levy said Lennar’s trademark claims have national importance because they involve a person’s right to buy key word advertisements on Internet search engines.

“This is the first case I know of that has tried to apply that theory of trademark infringement to the ‘gripe site’ context,” Levy said. “We’d hate to see that trend continue.”

Lennar’s Lawsuit Against Morgan

  • June 6: Speaking during a Martin County Commission meeting, Morgan accuses Lennar Corp. of shoddy workmanship at three homes in the Martin’s Crossings subdivision.
  • June 9: Lennar Corp. files a lawsuit against Morgan alleging trademark infringements.
  • June 21: Lennar Corp. amends lawsuit adding defamation and unfair competition claims.
  • Tuesday: Public Citizen overnights a friend of court brief supporting Morgan’s request to dismiss Lennar’s trademark claims.
  • March 21: Hearing schedule on Morgan’s request to dismiss Lennar’s lawsuit.

Email Comments From Mike Morgan

Attached is a brief that Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen Group filed in support of our position in our legal battle with Lennar. On March 21 there is a Motion for Summary Judgment (MSJ) on some of the issues. We expect to slam dunk the MSJ, and we are preparing to file a second MSJ within the next week regarding other issues.

Public Citizen Group Brief

Click here to see Nader’s Defense of Mike Morgan vs. Lennar.
Responses are welcome and Mike Morgan has agreed to respond as time permits. The forums are free and they will stay that way. We are very pleased to have Mike Morgan on our Housing Discussion Group at The Market Traders.

Mike Shedlock / Mish/